Fall 2014 STAR News
By Marti Glenn, PhD, MFT
What if I told you that two months from now your life could be transformed? What if your chronic anxiety, depression, and lack of meaning in your life could be a thing of the past?
You might ask me what planet I’m living on, right?
Well, if you’ve participated in a recent STAR® Retreat, you know what I’m talking about.
What do we mean and how does this happen?
Neuroscience continues to strengthen our understanding of how our brains are responsible for our health, our behavior, how we feel, and a lot of what unfolds in our lives. Healthy brain, healthy body, healthy life!
Noted psychiatrist and brain researcher Daniel Amen tells us that when you “Change your brain, you change your life.” The question is, how do you do that?
At STAR Retreats we have very specific exercises and experiences that incorporate the latest scientific principles that help you to, literally, create new neural pathways and over a few months, create a new brain.
Steven Porges, researcher at the University of Chicago, discovered that, as humans, we have a more complex nervous system than was previously thought. His research revealed that we have what he calls a social nervous system, a physiological phenomenon that continues to develop after birth. How emotionally present and responsive our mother and other caregivers were, determines how that part of our nervous system is wired. If our caregivers were emotionally responsive, we developed the capacity to slow our heart rate, digest our food, use our facial muscles to express our needs and feelings. With this, our needs are met and we feel safe. We also learn to hear the nuances of the human voice and accurately read the facial expressions of others. If mother wasn’t able to be emotionally present and responsive (because no one had been available for her!) we tend to experience more anxiety, depression, lack of trust and often have digestive difficulties and other psychological and physiological maladies.
Porges has termed this the Polyvagal theory, poly meaning many and vagal referring to the vagus nerve. He is saying that the development of our vagus nerve determines our capacity to regulate our nervous system and make meaningful connections with others. And, we might say that is a fundamental of life. If I cannot regulate my nervous system, if I too often have explosions or states of shut down, and if I have difficulty creating and maintaining meaningful relationships, not much else matters.
The good news is that having a deficit in this department doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life of dissatisfaction. Far from it! As mentioned earlier, neuroscientists remind us that our brain is always regenerating itself. We are constantly growing new neurons. The challenge here is, unless we change the current template, the new structures will be just like the old ones and our lives will stay just like they have always been. Thus, the strong incentive to seek experiences that begin to change the template.
The possibility of making lasting change is the exciting part. Neuroscientist and psychiatrist Daniel Siegel tells us that one meaningful experience can start our brain on a whole new trajectory.
Leading neuroscientists explain, “Neurons that fire together, wire together” meaning that similar experiences come together to form what is known as neural nets. Functionally, within the neural nets, are our mental models: the template of who we are, how we believe the world works and what we have to do to be safe and get our needs met. These mental models form very early in life and direct our feelings, thoughts and behaviors.
Basically, within our early experiences we create a belief structure that often doesn’t serve us. We believe things like, “I’m not supposed to be here; my needs don’t count; I’m not lovable, I don’t deserve the goodies… some version of I’m not okay. Along with this we experience a lack of trust and develop a strategy intended to help us feel somewhat safe and get our needs met. Our strategy may be something like: I’ll please others, I’ll be really good, I won’t have needs and/or I have to be demanding, act out, take things from others to get my needs met. While these strategies serve us very well in our families, as we go out into the world, they don’t help us create healthy relationships and they often present obstacles to having satisfying lives. In other words, they help us to survive, but not to thrive.
So, we know that, the brain we have is a product of our earliest and subsequent experiences, that within our brains are neural nets that “house” our mental models and that certain experiences will help change our brain, our neural nets and therefore help us transform our lives.
Incorporating these and other recent research findings, a STAR Retreat systematically provides experiences that change your brain. Here you uncover your early strategies and have an experience of who you really are. Once you have an experience, in your body, of your capable, loving self, you are on the road to transforming your life. Using the specific tools you learn during your STAR Retreat supports you to continue and strengthen the healing process when you go home. Your fellow participants will be strong allies as you stay connected after you return to your life in your community. Since they have had similar experience you will more easily know that they support and understand you.
Let’s look at some simple things you can do now to create experiences that begin to retrain your brain. First, we need to understand that telling ourselves positive things alone does not change the brain. Although it can help for a while, it’s like clipping the tops of the weeds in your garden. Unless you pull them out by the roots, they will just come back. The part of the brain that needs to change doesn’t connect readily with words. That part of the brain responds to experiences that involve the senses and contact with a caring other.
Not long ago, I cut my finger while slicing vegetables. Ken came over, took my hand, and said, “Let me see that. He looked in my eyes then reached for a tissue to put pressure on the small cut.” As he did that, I noticed my belly relax, and at once I remembered the times as a child when I’d hurt myself and I was told, “You’re not hurt. Hop up and go finish your homework. You’re okay.” Then I never felt okay. I felt abandoned, like I didn’t matter. So I began to believe “My needs don’t count.” But in this moment, I had an experience of caring. It wasn’t a big deal, really, just a tiny cut on my finger. But in that moment I could feel that my needs do count and I was able to receive the caring, to take it in.
These are the experiences that change the brain: small encounters that help you to feel seen and heard. We can’t necessarily plan or orchestrate them, but we can set an intention and be watching for any tiny bit of genuine contact, caring or presence that might come our way.
Sometimes seeing and hearing others can also help you have that experience. If you see someone caring for a child, or if you are fortunate to have a precious moment with a child, take it in, allow yourself to be seen by that little one and/or just imagine that you are also the little one being cared for.
It’s helpful to set an intention: “This is what I want to experience.” Whatever it is, a wish to experience more calm, connection with others, creativity and/or satisfaction, just name it. This is a start.
Then create a list of possibilities where you might be open to these experiences. Here are some examples:
- The next time someone says, “Thank you,” really take it in.
- Be open to positive things. Perhaps you experience that only rarely. Look for anything, no matter how small, that you can feel good about. Then, name it and see if you can bring the experience into your body. (For example, slow down, take a deep breath, close your eyes if that helps, notice any sensation in your body… belly, heart space, throat, shoulders, etc.)
- Adopt a gratitude attitude. Find at least three things each day to be grateful for. Make a note. See if you can feel that somewhere in your body.
- If someone offers a compliment about you or your work, be careful not to brush it aside, but take a breath and really let yourself receive it.
- Find some way that you can give to others. Allow yourself to receive the gift of giving. This can be as simple as helping someone at the grocery store, taking time to tell a manager when an employee has given good service, or helping a neighbor. Consider doing something on a regular basis to give back. There are many opportunities to volunteer. When you do, slow down afterwards and take it in.
- Simply make time to take in the world around you… music, the breeze on your face, the taste of warm bread, the incredible landscape, the smell of freshly cut grass.
- Become increasingly aware of the sensations you experience in your body. With awareness comes choice.
Whether you’ve done a STAR Retreat, are thinking about a STAR Retreat, or may never do a STAR Retreat, this will begin to give you a way to connect (or continue to connect) more fully with yourself. Using these, or any positive experiences where you become aware of the corresponding body sensations, will give you a place to start (or continue) to grow your brain and transform your life!
Perhaps the most important and exciting thing happening is the progress readying the Pier II Resort as the new venue for STAR Foundation workshops. The facility is being transformed and the logistics for STAR Retreats and other workshops are being pinned down. A deadline of mid-January keeps everyone on point for this big project.
STAR Foundation board members and staff have been spending varying periods of time volunteering on this project. Marti, Ken, and I spent some time during August and came up with our recommendations for remodeling. We plan on a venue that has all the amenities enjoyed and recommended by past participants. All the rooms are being refreshed and updated. There are plans for business and fitness centers. An event center is being created that will be the focus of STAR Retreat group meetings.
We will have exclusive use of the Pier II Resort when we hold our STAR Retreat Workshops. The rest of the time it is a destination for people loving fishing, birding, relaxing by a pool, air boating, and more. When we are between our workshops, the event center will be available for rental to others for meetings, weddings, and workshops.
The Pier II Resort has a pier with restaurant that runs out into the lagoon. You get great views of wildlife from here. A manatee has been sited just off the pier. When open to the public, boaters (mostly fishermen) tie up to the pier and visit the restaurant for refreshment and relaxation.
Lake Okeechobee is reported to have over 75 different bird species; while we were visiting we saw herons, cranes, egrets, and more. It’s fun to watch the Cattle Egret following the cows around in the nearby pastures. Some of the bigger birds are the Great Blue Heron and Great Egret. Many birds hang out on the pier that extends from the restaurant; sitting on the porch you can get great pics of these visitors as well as watch them fish.
We are a 10 minute walk to the levee that is topped by a scenic trail running the full circumference of Lake Okeechobee. This is a great place to have a relaxing stroll or vigorous run. It is also a great place for watching the sunset. When we were there the skies often had cloud formations that led to showers and amazing sunsets.
Yet another way to view the everglades, including ancient cypress trees, lotus and other flowers, and of course birds, is by airboat.
“I receive so much more than I give from the experience of facilitating at STAR Retreats!
The growth in both my personal and professional life has been immeasurable.
I am grateful for the STAR Community which continues to provide experiences that lead to
a happier, more productive and more loving life.”
-- Bill Williams, Certified STAR Facilitator and STAR Foundation Board member
Not long ago during a STAR Retreat we asked in a staff meeting, “What drew you to become a STAR facilitator?” Without hesitation, one staff member smiled and quipped, “I came for the learning, and I stay for the love!” That just about sums up the rest of the comments. Most facilitators are attracted to becoming part of the STAR staff because they want to give back, make a difference in the lives of others, and they want to be a vital part of a caring community where everyone’s unique gifts are valued, everyone continues to do their own work, and where we are all learning all the time. If this intrigues you, read on.
We recognize that the STAR Retreat is the most potent healing and personal growth program available. Many of us have experienced STAR personally and have witnessed our own and others’ lives change dramatically and in on-going ways. The following explanation is intended to help you understand the facilitator certification process and decide if it is something you want to pursue at this time.
To become a Certified STAR Facilitator you must, first of all, complete STAR as a participant. Then, if interested, and you feel that you are ready, you may apply to become a facilitator. Participants are encouraged to speak with their STAR facilitator and, perhaps, their personal therapist to discuss their readiness to pursue becoming a facilitator. Once your application is reviewed and accepted, you will be invited to attend the annual Facilitator Certification Training which includes some teleconferences plus a five-day intensive. After completing the intensive, you are invited to be on staff where you will be mentored in facilitating your first participant. You will receive your certification upon serving on staff. Following Certification you are welcome to serve on staff one to four times per year, depending on your availability and the needs of each STAR Retreat.
We are often asked, “Do I need to be a therapist to be a good facilitator?” The answer is no. However, you need to be a “people person,” someone with a capacity to be present for others, a good listener. It is also important that you be willing to explore new ideas, learn new skills, and apply them to your own life. As STAR Staff, we are always looking at our own lives and relationships, our own growth process, and how we can take better care of ourselves as we care for others.
As STAR staff, we ask facilitators to support participants who are exploring the deepest levels of their psyche, many of whom have experienced varying degrees of trauma. In order for each participant to plumb their depths and get the most from their experience, we feel it is imperative that our facilitators understand principles of attachment and early developmental trauma as well as the STAR processes, objectives, and the principles that underlie what we do and how we do it most effectively. All of this is thoroughly covered in the training. And, training continues each time you serve on staff. We meet the day before the beginning of each retreat and we hold daily meetings during STAR.
The training is also designed to help facilitators to feel confident and competent. As stated earlier, we are not suggesting that facilitators must be therapists. However, we do feel strongly that our facilitators need to develop and continually strengthen therapeutic skills. Since we ask participants to go to the levels of vulnerability needed for their healing, we have a responsibility to provide all facilitators with skills to safely support them through that process. And, this takes time and ongoing training.
Your decision to apply to become a Certified STAR Facilitator is one that we take seriously and intend to support you through this process so that you can, in turn, support others as they undertake STAR. Below is a further synopsis of the training.
Overview of the Experience of the STAR Retreat Facilitator Training
- You will experience and understand the underlying principles of the “magic of STAR” and why we do what we do;
- You will better comprehend the importance of our earliest development and the attachment process, how it plays out in adult relationships and how even one truly nurturing experience with a facilitator can begin to change a participant’s experience of themselves and what might be possible in their relationships;
- You will better appreciate how the brain develops in relationship and how this affective neuroscience now gives us some of the theoretical foundations of STAR and early developmental processes;
- You will be better prepared to conduct individual and group sessions at STAR;
- You will have an opportunity to apply what we are learning to your own life, to experience the principles, so that the we are all learning “from the inside out”;
- You will also have an experience of being supported in your work as facilitator and of being a vital part of a dedicated team.
Overview of the Structure of the STAR Retreat Facilitator Training
The format of the training will include didactic and experiential learning while incorporating personal experience and practical application every step of the way. Trainees will gain a solid working knowledge of the theory and an internal experience of the principles and methods for guiding STAR Retreat participants. We will also learn simple ways to embody the principles and apply many of them in our own lives first so that the learning takes place from the “inside out”.
Training includes reading relevant “handouts” and two teleconference sessions prior to the intensive, the 5-day day training experience at Pier II Resort (our new STAR Retreat home in Florida) and one follow-up teleconference session. Group training continues each time you serve on staff as we gather the day before the participants arrive and continue our work each day during afternoon staff meetings. Your individual mentoring will continue as desired when you serve as facilitator at a STAR retreat.
Life Affirming Benefits of Becoming a Part of the STAR Staff
As a Certified STAR Retreat Facilitator you will be in a unique position to make a measurable difference in the lives of others, those who attend STAR and those whose lives are touched by our participants. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, your life will be touched and strengthened each time you participate on staff. Below are some of these benefits. I’m sure you might add others.
- Being a part of the on-going caring, nurturing STAR community;
Learning and growing yourself at every STAR:
- In just being there, witnessing and supporting others to do their work, we cannot help but be touched, touching our own depths;
- Continuing to heal, get rid of more of the clutter;
- Reframe and continually take responsibility for everything in our own lives;
- Experience a greater capacity for love and intimacy;
- Have a natural inclination toward a “gratitude attitude”;
- Become more productive, creative, and resilient in your life.
- Experience the capacity to give back, make the world a better place, one person at a time: To give the gift that keeps on giving.
Trainees who successfully compete the Facilitator Training will receive a certificate as a Certified STAR Retreat Facilitator, will be considered part of the STAR community and facilitator staff and will be placed on the roster to be called as availability arises. Continuing Education Units will be provided for psychotherapists who request them.
The first prerequisite for the training is completing at least one STAR Retreat as a participant. If you have done so and you feel ready to pursue this rigorous yet extremely rewarding path, please contact Diana at the STAR Foundation office (707-857-3359). You will need to complete an application which includes the approval of your STAR Retreat facilitator. If you have questions about your readiness to become a STAR Retreat Certified facilitator, speak with your facilitator. Diana, Marti, and Ken are also happy to answer your questions.
We hope that reading this has inspired you to join us in becoming a STAR Retreat Certified Facilitator. We need more loving, dedicated people like yourself to join our team and help to grow STAR Retreats. If you feel ready, please consider sending us your application for the training. We very much look forward to dialoging with you about any questions you may have and about how you might contribute your gifts to STAR. We encourage you to email or call us at any time to discuss these possibilities.
Hear this poem read by Ken Bruer:
Monday I was told I was good.
I felt relieved.
Tuesday I was ignored.
I felt invisible.
Wednesday I was snapped at.
I began to doubt myself.
On Thursday I was rejected.
Now I was afraid.
On Saturday I was thanked
for being me. My soul relaxed.
On Sunday I was left alone
till the part of me that can’t
be influenced grew tired of
submitting and resisting.
Monday I was told I was good.
By Tuesday I got off the wheel.
By Mark Nepo